Do You Know What We Need?

Posted by on May 25, 1997 under Sermons

It is comforting to believe that all people think like we think. They see things as we see them. They reason as we reason. They understand as we understand. Our perspectives are their perspectives. Therefore, anytime they think, or reason, or understand differently, they are consciously rejecting the thinking, the reasoning, and the understandings that all people hold in common. They know better; they just choose to reject what everyone knows.

That was my unshakable conviction in the late 1950’s. I grew up in a small, rural, mountain community. And I am grateful for the blessings of that opportunity. But I had no exposure to or interaction with different peoples or different cultures. My undergraduate studies were at David Lipscomb University which probably had less than 2,000 students at that time. That is the first time I began to encounter people who did not think like I thought. And I can still remember how outraged I was with the thinking of some of my college friends.

From 1962 to 1969 I worked with congregations in Florida and Mississippi. I encountered a entirely different group of people who did not think like I thought. I still chose to believe that my thoughts were their thoughts, but they choose to reject our common understandings. Why they would do that was beyond my comprehension.

In 1970 I moved to West Africa. I came into direct contact with European cultures and was involved in African cultures. For the first time in my life I finally realized that there really were people who did not think like I thought, who never had thought like I thought, and who never would think like I thought. My thinking and their thinking were so different that I could have come from another planet. It was at that point that God began His in-depth spiritual education of David Chadwell.

  1. For decades it has been both simple and convenient for us as members of the churches of Christ to believe that everyone thinks like we think.
    1. At those times when other people obviously do not think like we think, we were convinced that they did think our thoughts, but they refused to admit it.
      1. It is easy to understand why we came to that conclusion.
      2. As a religious movement, our roots are primarily rural and southern.
        1. Just in this congregation, what would be your guess of the percentage of members above 50 years of age who grew up in a rural community?
        2. Last Sunday we worshipped with a congregation in San Francisco.
        3. When they learned we were from Arkansas, some members immediately began telling us of their southern roots.
    2. For the first 70 to 80 years of this century, members of the churches of Christ were attracted to the church and to each other for two visible reasons.
      1. The first reason is found in the fact that we hold a common spiritual perspective.
        1. We just want to be just Christians.
        2. We just want to be the church of the Bible.
        3. We place our trust and confidence in what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        4. We want Bible teachings to be the foundation of our lives and to be our spiritual guide.
      2. The second reason is found in the fact that we have similar roots and similar thought patterns.
        1. Because our roots and thinking are similar, we are comfortable with each other.
        2. If you have never considered how important it is to be comfortable with each other, just think about what happens in any congregation when one part of a congregation becomes uncomfortable with another part of the congregation.
        3. That phenomena is as old as the church itself.
          1. Do you remember what happened in the Jerusalem church in Acts 6 when Jewish Christians who grew up in other countries became suspicious of Jewish Christians who grew up in Palestine?
          2. Do you remember all the discomfort that existed between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians in congregations such as the congregations at Ephesus and Rome?
        4. Jesus personally suffered because he created that discomfort.
          1. The Pharisees deeply resented two things about Jesus: he did not think like they thought, and he ministered to people who did not think like they thought.
          2. The Sadducees deeply resented him for the same two reasons.
    3. When Christianity began, it challenged converts’ thinking through two enormous mind stretchers.
      1. The first mind stretcher was challenging them to understand and accept what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        1. “We don’t have to offer animal sacrifices any more because Jesus’ blood permanently destroyed our sins?”
        2. “We don’t have to keep the Sabbath day laws any more because we are in a new relationship with God?”
        3. “We don’t need a priesthood any more because Jesus himself represents us before God?”
        4. “We don’t worship at the temple any more because through Christ we have become the temple of the Holy Spirit?”
        5. “We are in a saved relationship with God because through His goodness He makes us His sons and daughters when we enter Christ?”
        6. “The power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead will raise us from the dead?”
        7. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, everything–absolutely everything–changed; nothing remained the same.
        8. What a mind stretcher!
      2. The second mind stretcher challenged them to understand that God loves people who did not think like they thought, and He saves those people.
        1. Jewish Christians really struggled with that fact in the first century.
        2. If you want to see for yourself just how hard that struggle was for Jewish Christians, read Acts 10 and 11 and Romans 11.
      3. If you want to see clearly that God loves and seeks to save people who do not think alike, read three sermons in the book of Acts; note the differences in the thinking of these three sermons given to three different groups of people who did not think alike.
        1. The first is the sermon in Acts 2:22-36 given to Jewish people in Jerusalem.
          1. Notice the emphasis on Jewish prophecies that told about the Christ.
          2. That really clicked in their thinking.
        2. The second is the sermon given to the group at Cornelius’ house in Acts 10:34-43: these were non-Jews who had attended the Jewish synagogue.
          1. Notice the emphasis is on the news they had heard about a man named Jesus.
          2. That really clicked in their thinking.
        3. The third is a sermon in Acts 17:22-31 that was given to idol worshippers.
          1. Notice two things: Paul called their attention to a god that they did not know, but worshipped, and he contrasted this creator God with an idol.
          2. That had the potential of clicking in their thinking.
        4. Clearly, here are three groups of people who did not think alike, and God wanted to save all three groups.
        5. And God could save all three groups without them learning to think alike if each group understood what God had done in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  2. Those same two mind stretchers present major spiritual challenges to us today just as they did to those first Christians.
    1. We still struggle to believe and to trust what God did in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
      1. We still struggle with the concept of total forgiveness of sins.
      2. We still struggle to understand that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a new legal system, that it is a completely different way to relate to God through a Savior.
        1. There was no Savior in the Mosaical system.
        2. There is a Savior in Christianity.
      3. We still struggle to learn, to understand, and to trust the goodness, the kindness, and the mercy of God.
      4. That is a major mind stretcher among Christians today.
    2. We still struggle to believe and trust the fact the God loves and saves people who do not think like we think.
      1. It is common for Christians to be sincerely convinced that if people do not learn to think like we think that they cannot be saved.
      2. It is common for Christians to believe that for any person to be saved that it takes more:
        1. Than faith in Christ.
        2. Than repentance, more than a redirection of life.
        3. Than baptism into Christ.
        4. Than letting the New Testament teach us about new life in Christ.
      3. All of that must happen, but somewhere in the process, the person has to learn how to think like we think.
    3. We long to believe that everyone can think like we think–we long to believe that because it makes everything so simple.
      1. But our own families and our own brothers and sisters in Christ are constantly revealing that just is not the case.
      2. We don’t think alike.
        1. A Christian whose whole life from birth to maturity was spent in an urban environment does not think like a Christian whose whole life from birth to maturity was spent in a rural environment.
        2. A Christian with an advanced education does not think like a Christian with a basic education.
        3. A Christian who has never married, who has lived for years as a single adult, does not think like a happily married Christian.
        4. A adult Christian who lives with the scars and wounds of growing up in a seriously dysfunctional family does not think like a Christian who grew up in a stable family with healthy relationships.
        5. A Christian who has experienced the unwanted rejection and trauma of divorce does not think like a Christian who has never had that experience.
        6. A Christian who is recovering from an addiction, or a rape, or incest does not think like Christians who never had those horrible experiences.
      3. A living, maturing, growing, healthy congregation will always be composed of people in Christ who do not think alike.
        1. There are some Christians who will spend their lives learning to trust God’s mercy as they wage war against an enormous problem that they must face every day they live.
        2. There are some Christians who will spend their lives putting life back together again.
        3. There are some Christians who have the gift and talent to teach who will spend their lives teaching.
        4. There are some Christians who have the gift and talent to serve who will spend their lives serving.
        5. There are some Christians who have the gift and talent to lead who will spend their lives leading.
      4. Aside from believing in the Savior, aside from constantly growing in knowledge and understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is no one thing that must be alike in all Christians.
        1. Some will always need encouragement as they wage their war against their problems.
        2. Some will always need reassurance in the mercy and the promises of God as they seek to overcome tragic pasts.
        3. Some will always need guidance and help as they struggle to understand and accept God’s love.
        4. Some will always need a challenge as they seek higher levels of commitment and service.
      5. Every spiritual need that exists among us and every spiritual need of those outside of Christ are legitimate spiritual needs.
        1. There are no simple answers.
        2. But Jesus Christ, our Savior, is adequate for every spiritual need.

To decide that the only people that we want to attract to Christ are people just like us is a disastrous decision. Let me speak a moment to those of my generation and older. Have you noticed that people just like us are disappearing? If you haven’t, take a serious look at your children and your grandchildren. They don’t think like we think. Their roots are different. The everyday world they live in is different. Their experiences are different.

If we seek to attract people to Christ just like us, there will be fewer and fewer people to attract. And when we die, there will be very few people like us left. So, when we die, after our years of sacrifice and work, the congregation dies. It will not die because there are no opportunity or no needs. It will die because it only knows how to minister to and teach people who are just like us.

I decided I do not want to help that happen. I decided I want to do what it is in my opportunity to do to keep that from happening. What will you decide?

Jesus died to save everyone.
He will never reject you.
It is your decision.
Won’t you come to Christ?

Life’s “Beyond My Control” Matters

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Last week Joyce and I had exceptional visits in California with her brother and sister-in-law and with our daughter and son-in-law. It was a week of rich joys and memorable blessings. Everything went exceptionally well–the visit could not have been smoother or more convenient. Each day had unplanned “special moments.”

The day of return began in the same manner–convenient, smooth. Then came the unexpected “beyond our control.” As we approached the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, it experienced a microburst. This severe, local thunderstorm and its dangerous sheer winds forced the airport to close. All air traffic was diverted to other airports for fuel.

The thunderstorm was one of those “beyond our control” matters. With falling domino effect, it set in motion over fourteen hours of “beyond our control” matters: an unscheduled trip to Oklahoma City for fuel (with long delay); the return to Dallas/Fort Worth with a mechanical malfunction that resulted in an “interesting” landing (another long delay); hundreds of people who had missed their flights; over four hours of standing in lines to change tickets, and two hours sleep on the terminal floor.

Joyce and I had absolutely no control over any of those matters. In fact, from the moment we boarded the plane in San Francisco, all such matters were quite literally in control of us.

When such occasions occur, a person can react in numerous ways to give “beyond control” matters even greater control: be angry; be verbally abusive; feel sorry for yourself; get upset at someone (anyone handy!) for ruining a wonderful moment; be outraged at the inconvenience; allow your “self-importance” to be indignant; protest life’s unfairness as “everything” conspires against you.

If we react to “beyond our control” matters in such ways, we surrender the only things that are always in our control. What possibly always can be in our control? Attitude, perspective, awareness of recent and immediate blessings, kindness, and consideration for others.

How Can You Know So Much and Understand So Little?

Posted by on May 18, 1997 under Bulletin Articles

Have you read John 3 recently? We have studied Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus many times. Often that study examines the incident under our spiritual microscope. We focus on the new birth and the Spirit. That certainly is a basic, valid concern in understanding that scripture. But it is easy to be so focused on the subject of the conversation that we never consider the situation. It also teaches us a basic lesson.

Personally, I regard Nicodemus a man of courage. He was a member of Israel’s highest court, the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. In theory, that court was formed from the seventy best scholars in Israel. They supposedly had Israel’s best minds and best educated perspectives. Their influential rulings bound devout Jews in all nations. Nicodemus was one of these seventy men.

This court declared Jesus to be dangerously controversial. Eventually this court sought and acquired Jesus’ execution. We know of only two men on that court who looked with favor on Jesus. Nicodemus was one of them.

Perhaps Nicodemus went to Jesus at night because Nicodemus’ peers found Jesus objectionable. Perhaps he went at night because Jesus’ popularity with the masses made a meaningful, private conversation impossible during the day. Whatever the reason, he went with genuine respect and appreciation of Jesus’ deeds. “God sent you. No one can perform your miracles unless God is with him.”

Capture the scene. This learned man acknowledged that Jesus came from God. Jesus replied to him in specifics, not parables. He was capable of having a “peer” conversation with Jesus. So Jesus stressed the importance of the new birth. Nicodemus was immediately confused. Jesus marveled. In essence, Jesus’ asked, “How can you know so much and understand so little?”

I sympathize with Nicodemus. Each time I better understand scripture, I ask myself the same question. I wonder if Jesus would not ask most of us the same question.

Faith Grows Through Doubt

Posted by on May 11, 1997 under Sermons

If you are observing a person’s faith, how can you tell if that faith is strong? That sounds like a very simple question that should have a very simple answer. But neither the question nor the answer is simple.

We do have some ready made answers for that question. Ready made answer number one: Look at the person’s life and see how the person acts. I have been working with Christians for years. My objective is very simple: guide and direct the person in a way that he or she finds spiritual help. I have worked with Christians who occupied prominent roles in the congregation, who had the appearance of someone genuinely devoted to God. But some of those Christians had either a secret life or a secret problem. The observable appearance looked impressive. The secret reality was tragic. A person may look like he or she has faith, may work like he or she has faith, when in reality the person has very little faith. They play the religion game really well, but they have a weak faith in God.

Ready made answer number two: Look for doubt or questioning. If the person has a strong faith, he or she has no doubts; he or she does not ask questions. They have “blind faith”–they trust God without questioning or thinking.

Fanatics have no doubts and despise those who have questions. Prejudice has no doubts and despises those who ask questions. Bigots have no doubts and resents those who have questions. The naive have no doubts and are deeply skeptical of anyone who has questions. Zealots have no doubts and regard anyone with questions as a serious opponent.

Any perspective that reduces matters to oversimplifications holds to the oversimplifications without doubt. Oversimplified perspectives also regard those with questions as an enemy.

Faith is not a fact to be possessed; It is a confidence to be advanced and developed. Any person who has faith at all times both has it and is developing it. There is a direct correlation between having occasions of doubt that raise hard questions and the development of the confidence that the Bible calls faith.

This evening we want to examine the healthy connection between doubt and faith.

  1. Last Sunday evening we carefully examined the types of faith that exist in the process of faith growing toward maturity.
    1. We looked at those types of faith as growth rings in a tree.
      1. We emphasized that this is a growth model, not a good versus bad or right versus wrong model.
      2. Typically:
        1. Faith begins as family faith or absorbed faith–the faith that a person absorbs from his family.
        2. It grows to group faith or environmental faith–the faith that a person derives from being a part of a congregation.
        3. It often grows to cause faith or moralistic faith–the faith that identifies and adopts a cause.
        4. It grows to need faith or awakened faith–the person becomes aware of spiritual needs that are survival needs.
        5. It grows to God faith or relationship faith–the person trusts and depends on his personal relationship with God; the person “owns” his faith.
      3. In this typical growth model for faith, questions that arise from the person’s doubts are commonly instrumental in faith growing from one kind of faith to another.
        1. Doubt and questions play an important role in faith making the transition from family faith to group faith.
        2. Again, they play an important role in faith growing from group faith to cause faith.
        3. Still again, they play an important role in faith growing from cause faith to need faith.
        4. And yet again, they play an important role in faith growing from need faith to God faith.
    2. The traditional view of faith is that doubt is evil and evidences the absence of faith.
      1. Some forms of doubt are evil and exist only as destructive influences–they exist to destroy.
      2. Other forms of doubt are neither destructive nor constructive.
        1. Whether these doubts destroy or build depends on the response of the person to the doubt.
        2. If the person seeks to increase understanding because of the doubt, it is constructive.
        3. If the person seeks honest, open answers to questions raised by the doubt, it is constructive.
        4. If the person uses the doubt to increase dependence on and closeness to God, it is constructive
        5. In the matter of developing faith, this kind of doubt strengthens and educates the confidence or trust called faith.
      3. The Bible documents clearly that the constructive use of this kind of doubt is a part of the process of developing the faith or dependence God wants all of us to have.
  2. Through the use of our projection system, I want to illustrate the link between faith and doubt that produces the mature faith God wants us to develop.
    1. Remember that Abraham is the Christian’s model for the faith that makes us righteous.
      1. When Paul wanted to use an example of faith to illustrate the faith God wants to exist in Christians, he used Abraham’s faith (Romans 4).
      2. When James wanted to use an example of faith to illustrate the faith God wants to exist in Christians, he used Abraham’s faith (James 2:14-26).
    2. I want you to consider what I call faith graphs.
      1. In each faith graph, the vertical side is marked off in faith units with 100 faith units being perfect faith.
      2. The horizontal side represents any point in time in a person’s life.
    3. Faith graph one represents what many Christians think faith should be.
      1. A person will never have perfect faith.
      2. But at any point in time in his or her life his or her faith should be somewhere between 70 and 85 trust units.
        1. If at any point in time it should rise above 85 trust units, that is wonderful.
        2. However, if the person’s faith falls below 70 trust units at any time, the person is in serious spiritual trouble.
        3. The further the trust units fall, the more serious the trouble.
      3. In the traditional view of faith, if a person’s faith was close to a flat line somewhere above 80 trust units, that would be ideal.
        1. If there is a death in the family, it remains the same.
        2. If there is critical illness, it remains the same.
        3. If the congregation has serious problems, it remains the same.
        4. If he is incredibly blessed, it remains the same.
        5. Faith would be steady no matter how good or bad things became.
    4. Faith graph two represents real life.
      1. The reality for all of us as Christians is this:
        1. There are moments when we have great confidence in God–we trust God in astounding ways.
        2. But there are also moments when we really struggle to keep any level of confidence in God.
        3. There are some matters that we trust to God without hesitation.
        4. There are other matters that we do not want to put in God’s hands.
      2. Consider the graph:
        1. When we are baptized into Christ, we enter at 80 trust units.
        2. We have a problem about our job, as we pray earnestly for God’s help.
          1. The problem is resolved in an amazing way.
          2. Trust units jump to 90.
        3. Our father and mother become invalids when a drunk driver slams into their car, and trust units plummet to 40.
        4. We pray, study, learn, and stop holding God responsible for the work of Satan, and trusts units climb back to 70.
        5. We discover that our child has leukemia, and our trust units plummet to 30.
        6. In our weakness we turn to God completely broken, and God sustains us–and our trust units rise to 85.
        7. We receive an incredible new job and new opportunities in a new spiritual environment that blesses us beyond imagination, and our trust units rise to 95.
      3. All of us are on a roller coaster ride with our trust hitting peaks and our doubts falling into valleys.
      4. Because of the way we have been taught to look at faith, our reaction is, “That is wrong! That is either the proof of unacceptable weakness or a lack of conversion.”
    5. Consider the third faith graph, a graph that depicts Abraham’s faith.
      1. Acts 7:3 says that God asked Abraham to leave his country and family before he moved to Haran.
        1. To me, that corresponds to Genesis 11:31 when Abraham moved with his father and family to Haran.
        2. I would place that at 50 trust units.
      2. In Genesis 12:1-4, after his father, Terah died, God directed him again to leave his family and Haran, and made him promises that were dependent on his having a son.
        1. This time Abraham leaves his family and Haran when he is 75 years old.
        2. He takes his nephew Lot with him.
        3. I would place that at 60 trust units.
      3. In Genesis 12:10-20, Abraham left Canaan and went to Egypt because Canaan was experiencing a severe famine.
        1. He is afraid that the Egyptians will kill him to marry his beautiful wife.
        2. So he lies–he refuses to acknowledge that she is his wife.
        3. I would place that at about 30 trust units.
      4. In Genesis 15:1, 2 God renews His promise and Abraham begs God to allow Eliezer to be his heir.
        1. I would place that at about 40 trust units.
      5. In Genesis 15:4-6 God declared his heir would be his own son, and Abraham believed God’s promise, and God reckoned that faith to Abraham as righteousness.
        1. I would place that at about 80 trust units.
      6. In Genesis 16:1, 2, Sarah said that they obviously were not going to have a son, so take her handmaid, have a child by her, and it would be the son of promise.
        1. Abraham agreed to do as she requested.
        2. I would place that at about 40 trust units.
      7. In Genesis 17 God renewed his promise to Abraham when he was 99 years old.
        1. Verse 17 says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed at God’s promise.
        2. I would place that at below 10 trust units.
      8. In Genesis 17:21 God declared that this child would be born in a year.
        1. Abraham renewed his confidence in God’s promise.
        2. He had every male that worked for him, Isaac, and himself circumcised that very day.
        3. I would place that at 80 trust units.
      9. In Genesis 20:2 Abraham is in Gerar telling the king that Sarah was his sister.
        1. I would place that at 40 trust units.
      10. In Genesis 22:2 God told him to take his son of promise and offer him on an altar on Mount Moriah.
        1. Abraham immediately made preparation, made the trip, and had Isaac ready to kill.
        2. I would place that at above 95 trust units.
    6. Please notice that Abraham’s’ great faith had moments of grave doubt.
      1. He is not the example of faith because he never doubted.
      2. He is the example of faith because his times of doubt led to renewed confidence in God’s promises.
      3. It was working through the doubt that produced the kind of faith that was willing to sacrifice Isaac without hesitation.
      4. His faith reached the point that it had absolute confidence in the God who gave him Isaac rather than faith in the fact that he had Isaac.

The existence of occasions of doubt do not prove that you have no confidence in God. The existence of doubt may be no more than occasions when your confidence is being challenged to grow and mature.

The key questions are these:
        Do you have confidence in God’s promises?
        Do you trust the God who made the promises?
        Or do you trust the gifts that God has given you?

Examine your faith in a way that will allow it to grow.

History’s Unique Mother

Posted by on under Sermons

Each year this nation sets aside a Sunday to pay tribute to mothers. It is to be a day of appreciation. We are not merely saying to our mothers, “Thanks for giving birth,” though that is worthy of more respect and appreciation than we men can comprehend. It is a day for expressing our appreciation for the love, sacrifices, unselfishness, nurturing, devotion, and tending we received from our mothers. We are declaring that you not only gave us our lives, but that you are a powerful, primary influence that helped mold us into the persons that we are.

Once I was talking with Gynnath Ford, a fellow preacher. His mother was in poor physical and mental health, and her condition was declining. Virtually every day that he was at home he visited and spent time with his mother. Many days she was hardly aware that he was there. Someone marveled that he spent so much time with her when she often was not responsive. He explained, “I am just expressing my appreciation for the years that she took care of me when I was helpless and even more difficult to care for.”

I doubt that there is any challenge in all of life that is as demanding and difficult as being a godly, loving mother. No man will ever fully comprehend either the difficulty or the challenge.

As in all challenges confronted by people, for some the challenge is much greater than it is for others. This morning I want you to think about the woman for whom motherhood presented the greatest challenges any mother has experienced.

  1. I think motherhood presented challenges to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that have never been equaled.
    1. Consider the occasion when Mary learned that she was to become a mother. The Gospel of Luke in 1:26-38 tells us about that occasion.
      1. An angel by the name of Gabriel was sent by God to a town called Nazareth in the region called Galilee in the nation of Israel (1:26).
      2. Gabriel brought a special message to a young lady who was engaged but not yet married (1:27).
        1. This young lady was likely in her teen years.
        2. She was a virgin; she had never been sexually active.
      3. The conversation between Gabriel and Mary was fascinating.
        1. “Greetings, woman richly blessed (favored one). The Lord is with you.”
        2. While I am sure that the presence of the angel shocked her (angels had not appeared to her, either), the greeting troubled her more than the presence of the angel (1:29).
          1. What did these words from the angel mean?
          2. Luke says that she “pondered” these words.
        3. “Don’t be afraid; you have found favor with God” (1:30).
          1. “You soon will be pregnant.”
          2. “You will have a son.”
          3. “You will name him Jesus.”
        4. “This son you will have is not just any child” (1:32).
          1. “He is destined for greatness.”
          2. “He will be called the Son of God” (an incredible designation).
          3. “God will give him David’s throne” (thus fulfilling an old and long anticipated promise that God made).
          4. “He will become the eternal ruler of Israel, and his kingdom will never end.”
        5. Mary is suddenly thrust into the same situation that Abraham experienced when God appeared to him hundreds of years earlier.
          1. God made some incredible promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), but all those promises were dependent on Abraham having a son.
          2. Nothing God promised Abraham could happen unless he had this son, and Abraham was seventy-five years old and childless after many years of marriage.
          3. All the angel’s promises were dependent on Mary having this son.
          4. She asked an obvious question: “How can this be possible? I cannot be pregnant because I have never been sexually active.”
        6. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of God will overshadow you. ”
          1. “That is why your son will be called the Son of God.”
          2. “In fact, today, Elizabeth, your relative, is six months pregnant–and you know that she has never had a child and is well past childbearing years” (1:36).
          3. “Nothing will be impossible for God” (1:37).
        7. Listen carefully to Mary’s response: she said, “I am the female slave of the Lord. Let it happen to me according to your word,” or, “May I as an unmarried virgin be pregnant with this child just as you have said.”
    2. Please carefully consider what an incredible statement of faith, of acceptance, and of surrender this is.”
      1. In the entire history of the nation of Israel, in all of God’s workings in the nation of Israel, in all of the unusual and unexpected things God had done in Israel, how may times had virgins had children in the past? None.
      2. What had God ever done in all His known deeds that was similar to this decision and action? Nothing.
      3. Place yourself in Mary’s position:
        1. What did the law of Moses say?
          1. Exodus 20:14–Do not commit adultery.
          2. Leviticus 20:10–Execute those who do commit adultery.
        2. What was Mary’s situation in this matter?
          1. An engagement arrangement was binding.
          2. It could only be broken by divorce.
          3. The minimum that could occur was severe disgrace with significant consequences.
        3. If you were unmarried, had never been sexually active, and were engaged to be married, and an angel told you the same thing Mary was told, how would you like to explain your pregnancy to your parents? To your fiancé?
        4. When you were about seven months pregnant, how would you like to explain to anyone:
          1. An angel came to see me.
          2. God has give me the special task of having this child.
          3. I am having the child for God by the power of God–the Holy Spirit made my pregnancy possible.
          4. God will use this child for special purposes.
          5. The angel even told me to name my son Jesus.
        5. How would you like for God to select you for that purpose?
      4. Her response was incredible: “I am the Lord’s slave. I am willing to have the child.”
  2. Have you ever thought about what it was like to be Jesus’ mother?
    1. The night that he was born some shepherd’s visited (Luke 2:8-20).
      1. They told this young family that an angel told them about the birth and told them where they would find the newborn infant.
      2. Mary listened to them and stored what they said like one stores a treasure.
      3. She pondered these things in her heart.
    2. Eight days after Jesus was born he was circumcised just as the law of Moses commanded (Luke 2:21; Leviticus 12:2, 3).
    3. She, as all Jewish mothers who had sons, was impure for thirty-three days after the birth.
    4. As soon as those 33 days were completed, she took Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord as prescribed by the law of Moses (Luke 2:22-24; Leviticus 12:6-8)
      1. While they were at the temple, they encountered Simeon (Luke 2:25-35).
        1. The Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he would see the Christ before he died.
        2. He took the infant in his arms and confirmed that Jesus was the Christ.
        3. Both Joseph and Mary were amazed at the things that he said.
      2. Also at the temple they met an 84 year old widow named Anna (Luke 2:36-38).
        1. Anna never left the temple area–she fasted and prayed there day and night.
        2. When she saw the infant she immediately began to praise God for sending the redemption of Israel.
    5. It was perhaps about this time that the wise men came for their visit (Matthew 2:1-15).
      1. Their visit placed Jesus’ life in danger because the jealous King Herod knew why they came.
      2. Immediately after their visit, an angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt with his young family, which he did.
      3. They did not return to Nazareth until King Herod died.
    6. I cannot imagine what it was like to be mother or father to Jesus as he grew up.
      1. The only incident from his childhood that is preserved for us is the family visit to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover when Jesus was twelve (Luke 2:41-51).
        1. Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem when the family headed back to Nazareth.
        2. They thought he was in the crowd and did not miss him for a full day.
        3. They finally found him in the temple area listening to teachers and asking astounding questions.
        4. Mary scolded him for causing them so much anxiety.
        5. Jesus asked, “You did not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
        6. Neither Joseph or Mary understood his statement.
      2. Again, we are told that Mary treasured these things in her heart.
    7. I cannot imagine what it was like for her during Jesus’ ministry.
      1. How would it affect her to see his soaring popularity–for him to be in such demand that it was very difficult for her to have access to him?
      2. How would it affect her to see the most powerful men in the nation become his enemies?
      3. How would it affect her to see the kind of people that he taught and helped?
      4. How would it affect her to see and to hear about all the miracles?
      5. How would it affect her to hear his teaching?
    8. The things she saw!
      1. She was there watching when they crucified her son–she saw the pain and heard the mocking and ridicule (John 19:25). Have you ever thought about the whole crucifixion ordeal through the eyes and ears of Mary?
        1. In her grief and broken heart could she still see God at work?
        2. At that moment, what did she think of giving birth to Jesus?
        3. Did she wonder where God was and how God was going to make him king of Israel?
        4. She not only was there, she was so close to Jesus that she could hear him when he spoke to her (John 19:26, 27).
      2. Interestingly, the accounts do not specifically state that Jesus appeared to his mother after his resurrection.
      3. But when everything quieted down and the disillusioned went home, Mary the mother of Jesus was one of the one hundred and twenty disciples who remained in Jerusalem after Jesus died (Acts 1:14).
        1. She helped choose a replacement for Judas.
        2. On that basis, I presume that she was among the first who became a part of the first congregation of Christians in Jerusalem.

One of the most difficult and critical tasks that God ever gave to any person, He gave to a woman. She responded with faith and surrender. It was not a task that would require great faith, surrender, and sacrifice for a day or a year or five years. It was a task that would consume over thirty years of her life. At every stage of Jesus’ life, her task changed and become even more challenging. That task ended when she witnessed the execution of her own son. She watched and listened as people killed that special son that God gave her. When the angel told her that her son would sit on the throne of David and rule Israel forever, I sincerely doubt that Jesus execution on a cross entered her thinking.

With great faith and courage she accepted the task. She told the angel, “I am willing to do what God wants.” And that courage never faltered. Can there be any greater documentation of the power and importance of motherhood? God always makes special use of godly mothers who, in faith and courage, willingly surrender to the purposes of God.

Mary has an important lesson of life to teach all of us. Mary’s focus on her life had nothing to do with her sense of convenience. She accepted the task God gave her. It was more often a liability rather than an asset to Mary to raise Jesus. In her concept of life, God’s purposes and mission were bigger than she was. The focus of her life was serving God’s purposes.

Do you define your life as “I am here to advance the purposes of God”? Take the focus in your life off convenience and advance the purpose of God. The greatest rewards in life are not in our own purposes. Let God use you to accomplish His purposes.

We are not ashamed to invite you to be a Christian.
We are not ashamed to ask you to devote your life to Jesus Christ.

Blinded By Our Blessings

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

I feel incredibly blessed. These past experiences intensify my sense of blessing: living in a third world country; visiting eastern European countries; enduring stressful times; and helping those who think they have no hope find hope. I often think that I know how to appreciate my blessings.

Then facts and situations prove that my blessings blind me. I realize this world is evil, but never do I comprehend how evil it is. The April, 1997 edition of Family News published by Focus on the Family was chilling. In 1996 an estimated 160,000 people were killed for this offense: they believed in Jesus Christ. It is estimated that more people have died this century for believing in Jesus than died in the previous nineteen centuries combined. For example, in Sudan, where people first believed in Jesus in the 6th century, women are systematically raped, executions by crucifixion occur, and women and children are sold into slavery. Some are branded or mutilated to permanently “mark” them, some are tortured, and some starved. Why? They believe in Jesus.

Believing in Jesus can cost a person his or her well being, property, or life if he or she lives under an aggressive communist regime or a fundamentalist Islamic regime. Assembling is dangerous. Communicating with foreigners is dangerous.

We Americans feel like we are such a huge part of the world. We are in fact such a small part of it. Americans are just over five percent of earth’s population. For every American there are nineteen people of other nationalities. America’s problems are very real. But our problems do not compare to the problems of the poor, the struggling, and the oppressed in the rest of the world.

Honest awareness of the plight and suffering worldwide of those who believe in Jesus should motivate us to maximize our incredible opportunities. Even if we live long lives, we still have little time to allow God to work His purposes through us.

May we allow God to remove the blindness created by our blessings. Instead of living for the convenience of the presence, may we learn to live for eternal realities.

Growth:  From Having Faith to Owning Faith

Posted by on May 4, 1997 under Sermons

When we observe faith in different people’s lives, we observe a fascinating phenomena. Two Christians who have placed faith in God go through near identical types of crisis. In both, the crises produce a period of questioning, confusion, and doubt.

From this common struggle with doubt, one Christian’s spirituality enters serious decline, and his or her faith radically shrinks. He or she becomes a person who attends habitually. His or her Christianity is little more than a religious affiliation with the church. Private conversations confirm that he or she seldom studies the Bible and rarely prays. Unless you saw this person attending worship, you would think that he or she had no spiritual interest. You may wonder why a person who is so disinterested makes any effort to attend a worship assembly.

From a similar period of doubt, the other Christian’s spirituality intensifies. He or she while in doubt begins intense Bible study. He or she develops a prayer life that grows in intensity. He or she is open and expressive about his or her struggles and about his or her growing dependence on God. As he or she seeks to build trust and dependence, an obvious surrender appears in daily life.

He or she begins to see the blessings in the problems, the struggle, and the pain of the situation. He or she talks openly about “what I am learning” as closeness to God is visibly increasing. In fact, the spiritual growth of these people is so obvious and their surrender so genuine that they frighten other Christians. These people share their studies, share their prayer life, and share their feelings for God. Again they are so open emotionally that their faith frightens many other Christians.

How do you explain how two Christians can go through very similar crises in nearly identical circumstances and have totally different faith reactions?

Dub Moore, a good friend and mentor, who lives in Abilene, Texas, shared some information on faith with me by phone and by mail. The information came from several different sources including Jack Reese who is chairman of the Bible Department at Abilene Christian University. The information served as a catalyst to my thinking and studying–it brought a lot of things together.

  1. First, let’s look at the broad picture.
    1. In this broad picture we are not talking about “good faith” versus “bad faith” or “right faith” versus “wrong faith.”
      1. To understand how faith typically grows and develops, it is essential that you begin by erasing good versus bad or right versus wrong as we consider faith.
      2. The model is a growth model, not a right versus wrong model.
      3. For example, in the physical and mental development of a human being, there are radical differences in the different stages of development.
        1. There are enormous differences between a newborn and a toddler.
        2. There are enormous differences between a toddler and a child in kindergarten.
        3. There are enormous differences between a child in kindergarten and an adolescent.
        4. There are enormous differences between an adolescent and a well adjusted twenty-five year old.
        5. There are enormous differences between a well adjusted twenty-five year old and a well adjusted fifty year old.
        6. None of those stages of development are bad or wrong; they are all a part of the growth pattern.
    2. Faith also has a growth pattern.
      1. While the pattern will vary for persons coming from differing circumstances (just as physical and mental development is affected by circumstances), there is an observable pattern of development that occurs in typical circumstances.
      2. If you will, view this growth pattern as you would view rings in a tree’s growth.
      3. If you cut down a tree, when you look at the diameter of the stump you see the growth rings of the tree.
      4. Visualize the development of faith as those growth rings.
        1. In the center, the core is FAMILY FAITH, a faith that a person acquires because he absorbs that faith from his family.
        2. The first ring is GROUP FAITH, a faith that a persons acquires by being a part of a group, a congregation–his congregational environment provides him his faith.
        3. The second ring is CAUSE FAITH, a faith that exists because the person has identified or adopted a cause; this is a moralistic faith.
        4. The third ring is NEED FAITH, a faith that exists because the person has identified and is addressing needs within his life that are fundamental life issues, or survival issues.
        5. The fourth ring is GOD FAITH, a faith that exists because the person understands accepts, trusts, and depends on a personal relationship with God; this faith is “my” faith, I “own” it.
  2. Now let’s examine each of these developmental stages of faith.
    1. Family faith or absorbed faith:
      1. This stage of faith accepts the faith of the parents.
        1. “I believe because Mom and Dad believe.”
        2. And it is not just a matter of believing because they believe.
        3. The person also believes what they believe.
        4. The faith that the person has is absorbed from the faith of Mom and Dad.
      2. Mom and Dad are the greatest and most immediate example of faith that the person has.
        1. Because the person trusts and loves Mom and Dad, the persons trusts Mom and Dad’s faith.
        2. Faith is expressed as Mom and Dad expresses it; it is evidenced as Mom and Dad evidence; it is focused on the same things Mom and Dad focus their faith on; it is defined by Mom and Dad’s definitions.
      3. Typically, a person outgrows family or absorbed faith.
        1. Some outgrow it at some point in adolescence when as a person they begin to establish the independence of self-hood.
        2. Some outgrow it as a young adult when as a person they begin to acquire knowledge and understanding that surpasses Mom and Dad.
        3. Some never outgrow it.
          1. Basically, these persons spend their lives maintaining and defending the faith of their family of origin.
          2. When this happens, it is more about affirmation of one’s family and family loyalty than it is about belonging to God.
          3. This person’s religious life is based on “their faith,” not on “my faith.”
      4. The dangers of not growing beyond family faith:
        1. The person’s faith stagnates into religious ritual–the issue is not trusting God, but “just doing what you are supposed to do.”
        2. If a person remains indefinitely in this stage, there is an inherent weakness.
          1. This faith does not equip a person for “my” trials and “my” suffering when I leave my family to establish my own life.
          2. At some point in “my” trials and “my” suffering family faith becomes inadequate or useless, and I forsake faith.
      5. The foundation of family faith is parents.
        1. It grows.
        2. Or it stagnates.
        3. Or it dies.
    2. Group faith or environmental faith:
      1. This stage of faith accepts the faith of the congregation or religious group to which I belong.
      2. “Because my church family believes, I believe.”
        1. Again, it is not a matter of just believing because my congregation believes.
        2. I believe what the congregation believes.
        3. The congregation defines my faith and tells me how to express faith.
          1. It provides me with “ready made answers” to complex questions.
          2. I do not have to understand complex issues–which my limited knowledge and understanding do not permit.
          3. I can accept what the congregation teaches and believes.
          4. “They believe, therefore I believe.”
      3. For a time, group faith provides a person many blessings.
        1. The faith of the congregation is a powerful stabilizing force in my life.
        2. It helps me become a source for family faith for my children.
        3. It serves as a caring, ministering support group in my life.
        4. It provides me a fellowship that comforts, stimulates, and encourages me.
      4. But, as long as the congregation is the basis for my faith:
        1. It is also the source of my spiritual strength.
        2. It is my spiritual compass providing the spiritual direction for my life.
        3. It is the root system that supports and nourishes my faith.
        4. And as long as the congregation is doing well, I am okay.
      5. But there are also some built-in problems in group faith.
        1. A congregation’s situation and circumstances change.
          1. Preachers move, serving members die, and leadership changes.
          2. No congregation remains the same through time.
          3. Transition is a constant reality–in today’s society, just five years brings huge changes to the makeup of a congregation.
        2. What happens when:
          1. A preacher you love and trust moves?
          2. An elder who was a positive force dies?
          3. The people who provided ministry leadership and direction move?
          4. A group in the congregation bitterly disappoints you?
        3. It is easy to “lose faith” when the environment of the congregation experiences a significant change.
          1. Disappointment with the congregation quickly becomes a faith crisis.
          2. Your source of strength quickly evaporates leaving you not knowing what to believe.
      6. There is also an inherent weakness in group faith.
        1. Group faith is wonderful as long as the congregation knows how to minister to your needs.
        2. But group faith becomes disastrous when the congregation does not know how to minister to your needs.
        3. There are some needs that living, loving, Christ-centered congregations excel in meeting:
          1. Support response in death, tragedy, or illness.
          2. Response to a home burning or a natural catastrophe.
        4. But there are also some needs that many living, loving, Christ-centered congregations have not learned how to respond to.
          1. Divorce devastates you and your family, and you are suddenly in the greatest physical need and the most serious spiritual crisis you have experienced–and the congregation does not know what to do or how to do.
          2. You acquire AIDS from a blood transfusion or by infection from an unfaithful spouse that you trusted–and the congregation does not know what to do or how to do.
          3. Because the congregation does not know how to respond, in fear it does nothing.
          4. And what happens to your faith?
      7. The foundation for group faith is the congregation.
        1. It grows.
        2. Or it reacts in bitterness and disappointment to transition.
        3. Or it dies.
    3. The cause faith or moralistic faith:
      1. This stage of faith finds a cause–the person is terribly concerned about particular moral conditions or problems that are seen as a basic evil infecting our society.
      2. “Because this is the moral teaching and position of the Bible, I believe.”
        1. Bible teachings address the distressing problem that concerns this person.
        2. He or she is absolutely convinced that the solution is to compel society to conform to the moral teachings.
        3. Since biblical morality clearly address the moral concern, since biblical morality will solve the moral crises, the person believes because God’s teaching is the answer to the moral dilemma.
      3. The cause may be focused in any number of issues of valid concern.
        1. Sexual moral problems.
        2. Violence.
        3. The lack of integrity in the business world.
        4. Family issues.
        5. Drugs and pornography in the community.
        6. Inhumanity in society or the world.
      4. The person is distressed by “what is wrong.”
        1. A solution, a “fix it,” must be found for the unacceptable conditions.
        2. Cause faith usually adopts “a course of action” that must happen.
        3. In faith, the person champions the cause, commits to the cause, and sacrifices for the cause.
        4. Cause faith commonly functions in a crusade/campaign attitude and commitment.
        5. “This is right, and we believe” too easily becomes “We are the answer because we believe.”
      5. Cause faith encounters an inevitable problem.
        1. Moral evil in a society that has a majority who do not place faith in God is not fixable.
        2. Any solution for moral evil that bypasses the hearts and wills of people who do not trust God can not be effective.
        3. Biblical morality, even when imposed on an unbelieving society, cannot resolve the moral problems of the society.
        4. Attempted control through forced compliance often makes the problem more complex.
        5. Biblical morality is effective when faith exists because faith exists.
        6. Moral conditions are changed (not merely controlled) when hearts and minds are changed.
        7. Consequently, cause faith achieves temporary victories.
        8. It is not uncommon to observe the problem increasing as we put forth our best efforts to reverse the problem.
      6. There are two serious dangers in this stage of faith.
        1. It creates enormous opportunities to become self-righteous.
        2. It creates the ideal circumstances for personal failure because the person cannot meet his or her own moral standards and expectations.
      7. The foundation of cause faith is a system of godly principles.
        1. It will grow.
        2. Or it will become cynical.
        3. Or it will die.
    4. The next stage is awakened faith or need faith.
      1. This stage of faith focuses on the person’s awakening to his or her spiritual survival needs.
        1. He sees his spiritual poverty.
        2. She sees the reality of evil within her own mind and heart.
      2. No longer is the person primarily concerned about fixing the church, or fixing society, or fixing other people.
      3. He or she sees that rules and regulations based on Bible teaching are spiritual kindergarten–they are not wrong, but they are not the substance of spiritual maturity.
      4. Other Christians may view this person as a “very good person” or as someone who truly turned his or her life around.
      5. But the person is waking up to the real problem of evil in everyone, and he clearly sees that problem in himself.
      6. With this awakening to the evil within comes the awakening to a biblical understanding of forgiveness, grace, and atonement–these are no longer merely religious words, but powerful, eternal concepts.
      7. With the awakening comes a tidal wave of feelings.
        1. Those feelings produce some genuine mountain top experiences when one feels close to God.
        2. But those feelings easily become the measurement of one’s faith.
        3. The person’s feelings can become the index to the health of his faith.
        4. So if he cannot defeat a struggle through prayer, recommitment, and resolve, the person feels like he is failing and can become depressed (“what’s wrong with me?”).
        5. But when he experiences a triumph in a struggle, he climbs to the mountain top again.
      8. The dangers:
        1. It is easy to make emotions and feelings primary in all spiritual considerations.
        2. It is easy to feel spiritually superior because you experience these genuine feelings and emotions.
      9. An inherent problem: when I fail to experience or sustain “mountain top” feelings, I can easily interpret this as a faith crisis.
        1. Faith produces those experiences.
        2. The absence of the experience is evidence of a weak faith.
      10. The foundation of this faith is personal experience arising from spiritual needs.
        1. It grows.
        2. Or it becomes depressed.
        3. Or it is killed by feelings of unworthiness and weakness.
    5. The next stage of faith is GOD FAITH (I am speaking of confidence in God’s full manifestation of His will and purposes through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.)
      1. This stage of faith focuses on the person’s relationship with God–he comprehends, understands, and trust what God has done and is doing for him in Jesus Christ.
      2. “I believe because I trust my relationship with God that was established when I entered Jesus Christ.”
        1. “I understand, I accept, and I trust reconciliation.”
        2. “I understand, I accept, and I trust forgiveness.
        3. “I understand, I accept, and I trust God’s promises.”
        4. “Because I place my confidence in God, I am certain that everything that happens in my life, both good and evil, will be used by God to help me enter eternal salvation.”
        5. “I place my full confidence in God’s accomplishments at the cross and the resurrection.”
        6. “Because I know God, I trust God in all circumstances.”
        7. “Because I trust God in all circumstances, I serve God in all circumstances.”
        8. “I trust because I understand, but my trust exceeds my understanding.”
      3. This level of faith is not dependent on anyone else–it is my faith.
        1. If no one else believes, I believe.
        2. If my family rejects God, I continue with God.
        3. If the congregation falls, my faith stands in tact.
        4. I embrace biblical morality, but my faith exceeds moral expectations.
        5. I have powerful, deep feelings for God and Christ, but my feelings are neither the foundation or the measurement of my trust.
        6. I will trust my God and my Savior regardless.

In any living congregation, you will observe all these stages of faith simultaneous. In a living congregation, you will see Christians growing through these stages of faith, and you will see the more mature patiently encouraging the less mature.

The Formula For Success

Posted by on under Sermons

Our society loves success. Our society honors success. Our society rewards success. Our society worships success. You have obtained the highest possible level of achievement and importance in this country when you are know to be and accepted as being successful. To be successful is to be a winner.

Our society hates failure. Our society has little respect for anyone that is classified as a failure. Our society penalizes those who fail. Our society often looks upon people who have failed with contempt. To be a failure is to be a loser.

That makes success a high priority in most of our lives. It is extremely important that all of us be able to see ourselves as successful in some way. If we cannot say to ourselves that we are successful in something, then we regard ourselves to be a failure. Considering yourself a failure is a self-imposed burden that you rarely escape. It is a burden that complicates every area of your life.

So there is a ready made market in our society for “how to” books. Name an area of life, and there are probably several books available to instruct you on how to be successful in that. Some people have become quite successful in the process of telling other people how to be successful.

I am quite aware that a discussion of success is not a single topic discussion. There are many forms of success and many definitions of success. To some success is inseparable from material achievement. If you don’t have money and many possessions, your aren’t successful. To some success is to be measured in terms of personal achievement, and that may have nothing to do with money or possessions. To some success has to do with accomplishments within a career or a vocation. To some success is attaining public acclaim.

This morning I want to oversimplify our discussion of success. But the oversimplification makes an essential point that we need to remember. I will begin by asking this question: what do you consider to be the formula for success?

  1. You rightfully respond by saying, “That depends on what you are discussing.”
    1. If you want to make preparation to be successful in a career or work life, what is the formula for success?
      1. First, consider the career path.
        1. You need to take your high school studies seriously–the competition for going to a good college or university is increasing.
        2. You need to go to a college or university that will both train you for your career and give you an advantage.
        3. If you can get any kind of job experience in the summers of your college years, that will be a big help.
        4. Make as many contacts in your field as you can.
        5. Get serious about your studies and your grades.
        6. When you get your first job out of college, be responsible, work hard, be conscientious, and learn like a sponge.
        7. Be alert to opportunity.
        8. Have the courage to accept opportunity when it comes.
      2. Second, consider a crafts or skill occupation.
        1. Get a sound educational background.
        2. Attend a good business and industrial school that will permit you to have specialized training.
        3. As early as possible, get some actual experience–work as someone’s helper or apprentice.
        4. Try to get a job with a company that has an earned reputation for expertise in your area of work.
        5. Take special training when its available, learn anything that you can that will increase your skills and knowhow–you can never know and understand too much.
        6. Work hard, do good work, stand behind your work, and built a reputation as a capable craftsman who knows what he is doing.
    2. If you want to have an exceptional marriage, what is your formula for success?
      1. You need to begin with a healthy, realistic definition and concept of a healthy marriage.
      2. As a teenage, come to the real understanding that it takes a whole lot more than passion to build a marriage.
      3. Realize that you cannot marry just anyone and have a successful marriage.
      4. Date wisely.
      5. Develop good communication skills before marriage, but continue to develop them after marriage.
      6. Learn sound conflict resolution skills.
      7. Date responsibly.
      8. Do all that you can to determine that persons you seriously date are as concerned about successful marriage as you are.
      9. Evaluate differences honestly before you marry.
      10. Identify and meaningfully discuss differences and adjustments before and after you marry.
      11. Do some serious premarriage counseling.
      12. After marriage continue to learn all you can about how healthy relationships work.
      13. Learn how to be mutually supportive and build each other’s strengths.
      14. Don’t neglect problems.
      15. Don’t neglect finances.
      16. Don’t hesitate to get help when problems occur.
      17. Spend meaningful time together sharing life.
    3. If you want to be a successful parent, what is the formula for success?
      1. Again, you need to begin with a realistic definition and healthy concept of what an effective parent is.
      2. You need to love your children, know how to express that love, and make that love visible in all circumstances on a continuing basis.
      3. Again, you need to develop your communication skills.
      4. You need to learn as much as you can about human development age by age.
      5. You need to understand how to discipline fairly.
      6. It is important that you not only share time and experiences with your child, but also that you share yourself with your child.
      7. You need to model the behavior you want them to learn.
      8. You need to teach your child relationship skills by letting them observe your healthy relationship when things are good and when things are bad.
      9. They need to learn from you how to work through problems and trials just as they need to learn from you how to constructively enjoy good times.
      10. You have to love them enough to:
        1. Provide the kind of care they need at each age.
        2. Let them mature.
        3. Give them unconditional love.
        4. Let them make their mistakes, and help them learn from those mistakes as they recover.
        5. And, one day, turn them loose to live their own lives.
    4. There is something basically wrong with everyone of those formulas for success; the same thing is wrong in each formula.
  2. Well over three thousand years ago, there lived a man whose name is still known worldwide.
    1. He lived in the number one place to live in his world.
      1. He lived in the safest, most prosperous, most developed, most civilized place in his world.
      2. And he left that place literally to wander around in a dangerous place to live.
    2. He was really a rather peculiar fellow.
      1. He never owned much land.
      2. He never wrote a book–we don’t even know if he could read.
      3. He never ruled or governed.
      4. I don’t know that he had a great deal of power, though he did accomplish some unusual things.
      5. He never started a great business enterprise, and was not known for his trading skills.
      6. There is really nothing very remarkable about this man–with one strange exception.
    3. Yet this man was successful beyond our wildest dreams.
      1. Who will remember your name in three thousand years?
      2. Have you done anything in your life that will benefit and bless someone three thousand years after your death?
      3. Will anything you do still directly impact the current history of the world three thousand years after you lived?
      4. This man’s name is known and remembered, his life blesses our world today, and his life still has an impact on current history.
    4. This man has something to teach us about the formula for success.
  3. There was another man that lived about 2000 years ago who is also known worldwide.
    1. Compared to the first man, he was a pauper.
      1. As an adult, he owned absolutely nothing.
      2. He never married, had no children, no descendants.
      3. By the standards of his day, he was uneducated–that is he never attended noteworthy schools; in fact, we know very little about his education.
      4. He did not travel over a wide area in his life time, but he was always wandering around.
      5. He never settled down, and never stayed in one place very long.
      6. He created controversy wherever he went, but he was an incredibly positive force everywhere he went.
      7. Some people loved and respected him, and some people despised and hated him.
    2. After he died, the world was never the same; the course of history was permanently changed.
      1. Because of his death, the world will never be the same.
      2. No matter how long the world continues, he will always be a powerful, positive influence on people.
      3. Though he lived two thousand years ago, he can help people of today understand life and relationships in ways that literally turn their lives and relationships around.
      4. He has many, many things to teach us about the formula for success.
  4. Both men teach us the same basic lesson about success, and that is the basic lesson that was missing from our thinking about success in a career, in an occupation, in marriage, or in parenting.
    1. The men:
      1. The first man was Abraham.
      2. The second man was Jesus.
      3. Both of them teach us the first and most essential factor in being successful: the beginning point for pursuing success is a healthy relationship with God.
      4. Were it not for their relationship with God, you and I would know neither of these men.
      5. Because of their relationship with God, not only will they be remembered, but they will never stop influencing our world.
    2. Unless you are willing to settle for a cheap form of success, you will not find the greatest success you are capable of experiencing unless you begin with a healthy relationship with God.
      1. If your formula for success in your career or work places little emphasis on God, you won’t be very successful.
        1. You make a lot of money.
        2. You may own a lot things.
        3. You may even accumulate a lot of power.
        4. But the emptiness of what you do and have will tell you that you don’t have the success that you were searching for.
      2. If your formula for success in your marriage places little emphasis on God, you won’t be very successful.
        1. You may have an incredible house.
        2. Your family may make a lovely portrait.
        3. You may travel together to lots of fun places and do exciting things.
        4. You may wow your neighbors and friends.
        5. But the loneliness and stress that you experience in your marriage at those critical, important moments will tell you that your marriage is not the success that you hoped it would be.
      3. If your formula for success as a parent places little emphasis on God, you won’t be very successful.
        1. The children may be able to have the experiences that you want for them.
        2. They may make the grades in school you want them to make.
        3. They may achieve the popularity you want them to have.
        4. Perhaps you will even be so fortunate as to have little conflict with them when they are teens.
        5. But the feeling of distance between you and them, the feeling of being at a loss to do anything that touches their hearts and minds at critical moments will tell you that you are not nearly as successful as you wanted to be.

Are you telling us that if a healthy relationship with God is the foundation of our formula for success that career, marriage, and family will work out just exactly like we want it to? No, I am not saying that.

I am telling you that we live in an evil world that often does not make sense. We live in a world where you can have everything and nothing at the same time. We live in a world where more people do not know how to create and sustain a relationship than do know how to.

Only God is bigger than our problems. Only God is bigger than our struggles. Only God is bigger than evil. Only God is more powerful than failure. Only God can minister to, strengthen, and sustain us when an evil world conspires against us. Only God can give life its true meaning when everything goes right. And only God can give live its true meaning when everything falls apart.

God is the beginning for the formula for success in this life and in the life to come.

It is never too late to add God to the formula.
It is never too late to allow God to bring a great success to your future.
It is never too late to let God destroy the sin.

The Maturing of My Faith

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

With joy and tears, we watch as our child is baptized into Christ. He or she is so young, so trusting, so sincere. He or she has talked with us. He or she revealed such sincerity, such earnestness, such determination in those conversations. He or she was so certain that “I understand and I believe,” and so urgent, so insistent about “what I have to do.” And in ways that our newly baptized child could not understand, we look at those bright eyes and wet hair with a very strange mixture of joy and concern.

Will that exact faith at that moment of baptism be the faith that confronts the struggles of her temptations when she is 16? Will that exact faith at the moment of baptism be the faith that helps him with his difficult moral choices when he is 16? Is it the identical faith that she will take into her marriage as a bride and newly wed? Is it the identical faith that will help him be a positive, effective spiritual leader in his young family after his first child is born? Is it the same faith that challenges career and business demands in the 30s, mid-life crises in the 40s, the demands of transition in the 50s, and the challenges of aging in the 60s?

No. As the person grows, faith must grow. Faith must not merely grow in quantity. Perhaps that is impossible. Perhaps one cannot believe any “more” than does that young person when he or she with simple, whole-hearted trust is baptized into Christ. Just as a person matures, faith matures. That maturing process changes the person. That maturing process also changes faith.

The person develops as he or she transitions through the many levels of maturity. Each level retains the basic qualities of the person, but the development produces dramatic changes. His or her faith also retains its basic qualities, but its maturing also produces dramatic changes.

For three weeks on Sunday evenings we have examined the identity and nature of faith. This week come consider how your faith develops as it matures through these stages: the absorbed faith; the environmental faith; the moralistic faith; the awakened faith; and the faith of relationship. The series is “How To Grow In Faith Grow.” The lesson is, “Growth: From Having Faith to Owning Faith.”